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As BMO Centre finally opens its doors, the future of Stampede Park begins to take shape

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
This article is brought to you by bet365.
If you’re a typical Calgarian, your relationship to Stampede Park is limited to 10 days in July, and perhaps trips down to the grounds to attend games or concerts at the Saddledome from time to time.
But if you’ve followed this website over the past few years, you’re probably aware that there’s a pretty concerted effort underway to change that. Stampede Park has been drawn into what’s being conceived as a larger, more robust culture and entertainment district by the City and its’ land development arm, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC).
The aim is to draw more people downtown more often by putting cool stuff in the area. Over the past few years, there have been plans announced, announcements planned, and a lot of preparations made. Up until this week, the primary tangible outcome of all this hubbub has been endless construction in the Stampede Park area.
Well, good news, the expanded BMO Centre opens to the public on Saturday as part of the Calgary Stampede’s annual Community Round-Up event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. FlamesNation wrangled an invite to the media unveiling on Wednesday and got a chance to poke around and gawk at the expanded facility.
 
The BMO Centre expansion is part of CMLC’s ongoing development of Stampede Park, East Victoria Park and the east chunk of downtown as part of the broader cultural and entertainment district. It’s expected to serve as the focal point for the district, sitting at the corner of Stampede Trail and 17th Avenue, and it serves as a replacement for the demolished Stampede Corral, an expansion of the existing BMO Centre facilities, and the first major project to be completed in the revamped district. (For the curious, the new Flames arena will be located about a block north of the expanded BMO Centre, on the east side of Stampede Trail.)
For a building that’s being asked to do a lot of different things at once, it seems to do them pretty well.
As far as convention spaces go, it’s quite nice. The expansion functionally doubled the square footage of the facility – to over 1 million square feet – and is expected to bump Calgary into the top tier for conventions. It’s already garnering a lot of attention.
“We are having success selling this building,” said Calgary Stampede CEO Joel Cowley. “We have more than 500 events booked in the new space prior to even opening. 150 of those are incremental, new events that we’ve never had before, and over 50 of those are conventions that will be coming here over the next four or five years.”
As a replacement for the departed Stampede Corral, there are a lot of homages – both subtle and more visible – to the old barn. The Corral opened in 1955 and was the largest arena west of Toronto at the time of its completion. While the BMO Centre’s construction required the Corral’s demolition, a recreation of the famous “Neon Cowboy” artwork (formerly adorning the east-facing facade across the street from the Saddledome) can be found in the BMO expansion’s lobby.
And outside of the facility, in the outdoor plaza, can be found red chairs – fairly authentic recreations of the seating formerly found in the Corral.
Aside from the Community Round-Up on Saturday, we expect the first time a lot of Calgarians get a chance to see the BMO Centre up-close will be during the Stampede – it’s easily the most striking piece of architecture on the grounds. The most visible exterior features are the large canopy arm over the public plaza, but the area also features a large set of exterior stairs – the Stampede Showband will perform on the steps during the Stampede – and public art that mimics an outdoor foundation. And once you wander inside, the gigantic fireplace is on the second floor. (It’s pretty sweet.)
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even with a $500 million price tag and investments from three levels of government, the BMO Centre expansion on its own won’t turn Stampede Park into a bustling place 365 days a year. But the stakeholders are optimistic that by giving Calgarians and visitors alike more reasons to visit the area, they can start moving things in that direction.
“Stampede Park is largely events-driven, whether it’s the Stampede, a Flames game, a trade or consumer show, whatever the case might be, people are coming here for those events,” said Cowley. “With the BMO Centre, the eventual events centre, that’s really going to expedite the restaurant, the retail, the entertainment that will bring people here daily year-round and allow us to do some additional programming and activate the park as well.”
The BMO Centre expansion isn’t a magic bullet. A lot of further development is needed in the area to fill in the gaps between these big projects. But as far as first steps, it’s a pretty strong one. We’ll see where things go from here.
In the meantime, there’s a brief respite from major project construction in Stampede Park that is expected to end when arena construction begins later this summer.

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